Height is the only performer I can think of who could pull off a reverent cover of minimal-punk duo Ed Schrader’s Music Beat’s “I Can’t Stop Eating Sugar” in the middle of a rap set.
And Height With Friends has got to be the only rap outfit that could release an album that lives up to the title Rock and Roll. It’s not a Scotch-tape rock-rap mashup; it’s more like a reverse-engineered missing link. But not quite – I can’t really imagine this record dropping in the Bronx in 1982, and any track would be absolutely outrageous as the flip-side of a Hank Ballard single. The album is full of live guitar riffs played against sequenced drums (running at a vintage R&B BPM), supporting a vocal delivery so steady it almost stands still. But the effect is undeniably rootsy, even elemental.
The lyrics are rawer than ever as well. A few tracks are still located in times and places – “Oswego Speedway” and “Moscow” being the most obvious examples – but the lyrics are dominated by a timeless existential urgency – that same universal angst that has been fueling great pop music since time began. (Check out the video below for the lead single, “I Can’t Stand to Be Refused,” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)
This isn’t to say that the record has transcended personality. Height’s persistent, idiosyncratic flow pervades Rock and Roll. Also present is the rapper’s knack for re-energizing cliches with his own signature style of paraphrasis, my favorite instance this line from “Moscow”: “They know this place like they know their hands.”
It seemed that by Bed of Seeds two years ago, Height had gotten comfortable in the margins, making take-it-or-leave-it idiosyncratic rap with live instruments and old school back-ups. Rock and Roll is even more unclassifiable, almost defiantly so. And yet it looks like Height’s finally gaining some traction among indie tastemakers; The lead single premiered on Stereogum, and the video for the song was featured on Vice‘s website.
But we shouldn’t expect Height to settle into this style for too long. In his words,“I think I want my thing to be that my thing always changes.”
Rock and Roll comes out August 14 on Cold Rhymes Records. The release show is August 10th at Floristree.
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